“But you just posted an article about health benefits of coffee and tea!”  I am sure that is what you are thinking right about now.  I do believe there are so hard and fast health benefits in coffee and tea, however, as with most things, especially having to do with the Standard American Diet, we tend to overindulge, especially with coffee.  That overindulgence can lead to the negatives outweighing the positives.

When I was going to school in Europe I used to spend a lot of time in Greece. I stayed in this little hotel in Chania, Crete that made the most heavenly cappuccinos I have ever tasted.  I was never a coffee drinker, having had only a few sips of American coffee (which was just bitter and lifeless to me) and a little café con leché (coffee with milk)  in Spain.  I was still very young and this was back in the day when girls were still told that if we drank coffee our growth would be stunted.  It seems odd to me, still, that our young people are now frequenting coffee houses and toting  venti lattés around school as if it is the latest Marc Jacobs bag.  I digress.

Read my experience with caffeine addiction HERE.

I still love the rituals of the art of  making and drinking coffee.   Nowadays, I will have a cafe créme in Paris or a hit of espresso in the morning and again in the afternoon in Italy.  I may have a decaffeinato correto (decaffeinated espresso with a shot of sambuca) after dinner.   In Lebanon, I limit myself to one Turkish coffee a day lest I am thrown into reliving my “Greek tragedy”.

More about coffee and tea

Cleansing and Coffee

How to Cold-Brew Coffee

Coffee or Tea? Surprising Health Benefits

So why should you reduce your caffeine? 

  • Caffeine can worsen autoimmune disease symptoms (Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lyme Disease, Fibromyalgia, Polymyositis, Lupus, etc.) since it exhausts the adrenals, puts stress on the immune system, and causes inflammation.
  • Caffeine can worsen Candida Albicans and other yeast overgrowth conditions, since it exhausts the adrenals, puts stress on the immune system, and causes inflammation, and can stimulate bacteria growth.
  • Caffeine can temporarily raise your blood pressure, meaning that individuals with high blood pressure or cardiac conditions  may experience a heightening of symptoms.
  • Caffeine exhausts your liver, kidneys, and adrenals, which is especially dangerous if you are dealing with chronic disease or take large amounts of medications.
  • Many caffeine-laden beverages and foods  like coffee, sodas, and chocolates contain high amounts of acid which disturbs the acid/alkaline balance, and creates an environment in which bacteria thrive and leading to increased risk for ulcers, acid reflux, and other digestive irregularities.
  • Caffeine can contribute to  increases in anxiety when over consumed.
  • Sleep disturbances.

Withdrawal Symptoms of Caffeine

Symptoms usually begin within 12-24 hours, and can  peak within 20-48 hours.  In some individuals, symptoms may only last a few hours, in others, symptoms may last up to a week.  As your body detoxifies and adjusts to life without caffeine, you may suffer from some of the following withdrawal symptoms:

  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Dehydration
  • Fatigue
  • Generalized muscular tension
  • Nausea
  • Lack of appetite
  • Constipation
  • Lack of concentration
  • Disorientation
  • Forgetfulness

Cut Caffeine Gradually

Try a 10-30% reduction in caffeine every few days.  For example, if you drink 3 cups of coffee per day, drink 2 – 2 ½ for three or four days, then decrease by another ½ cup for another few days, and so on and so forth.  If you get your caffeine from soda, try reducing the amount of soda you drink in a similar fashion, replacing it with naturally carbonated kombucha, water kefir, or mineral water to satisfy your bubbly beverage desires.

Substitute the missing coffee with decaf or other coffee substitutes. For example, cut your caffeinated coffee with decaf, or substitute a cup of coffee with a substitute.  Again, make this transition gradually.  For example, start by substituting ½ the coffee in one cup per day for a few days, then ½ the coffee in two cups for the next few days, and so on and so forth.

Allow yourself a few weeks to gradually eliminate caffeine all together; a slow transition will be easier to stick to and will make withdrawal symptoms less severe.

Delicious Substitutes for your Caffeine Habit

Cut the caffeine, but not the ritual!   There are lots of good substitutes for coffee.

  • Decaffeinated coffee:  good for keeping the coffee flavor, but still high in acid content, try using a low-acid alternative like herbal tea, or one of the other options below. Or try cold-brewing your coffee.
  • Warm water and lemon juice: drink a cup of warm water with added lemon juice.  Warm water and lemon will help detoxify your liver and kidneys from the caffeine and over-acidification that coffee causes on the system.
  • Mild green tea: still caffeinated, but not as much, and full of good antioxidants.  Buy a pretty tea pot and beautiful cups.  Learn how to make the perfect cup of tea.  Enjoy the luxury.
  • Black tea or yerba mate: still caffeinated, about 1⁄2 as much caffeine as coffee – a good way to start weaning off caffeine.
  • Herbal teas (caffeine free): Honeybush and rooibos (Redbush)  have naturally stimulating effects on the body, and rich, full  flavor.  Peppermint isstimulating, good for digestion while chamomile is soothing, good for tension and migraine headaches, hibiscus, raspberry leaf (particularly for those trying to conceive a baby), lemon balm, and many other herbs have a wealth of benefits for the body.
  • Root teas: Licorice, Chicory, Ginger.  Licorice is good for supporting the kidneys in times of stress and is a natural stimulant, ginger helps soothe headaches, digestion, and is naturally stimulating, and chicory is a great tasting substitute for coffee!
  • Teeccino, Dandy Blend, or other herbal or grain coffeemany of these are gluten-free when brewed, and have a wonderful, coffee like flavor. My favorite is Teecino.
  • Misotry a cup of warm miso in place of coffee. Just place 1-3 tsp of miso paste in warm water, stir, and drink. Nourishing, delicious, and an awesome source of healthy probiotic bacteria!  I love Ohsawa Murukawa Organic Unpasteurized brown rice or hatcho gluten-free miso paste.

Replacements for Soda

  • Kombucha: naturally fermented tea that is full of healthy bacteria. Make your own or buy it from the store – it is a great substitute for soda, minus the caffeine!
  • Water  or coconut water kefir: water mixed with sugar that has been fermented with bacteria, it is bubbly and can easily be flavored with fruit or herbs.  Coconut water kefir is profoundly nourishing and hydrating containing a completely balanced electrolyte profile.  Make your own with water kefir grains from Cultures for Health. I make coconut water kefir all summer long and can’t live without it.  Like kombucha, it is a good source of healthy bacteria, and is low in sugar and caffeine free.
  • Mineral water: purchase a high mineral content sparkling mineral water for the best health benefits. Add lemon or lime, a few drops of flavored stevia liquid, or mix with juices for a refreshing, sparkling beverage.
  • Iced tea: brew a batch of iced herbal tea for a refreshing, caffeine free drink

Relief from Withdrawal

Caffeine weakens adrenal and liver functions, and the acidifying effect that coffee has on the system can gradually exhaust the body’s general ability to expel toxins and maintain a proper acid-alkaline (pH) balance.  By reducing or eliminating caffeine, your body will start to purge built up toxins and restore full adrenal and liver function. There are lots of things you can do to help support your system and aid in detoxification, as well as reduce withdrawal systems.

Lifestyle Changes for Caffeine Detox

  • Drink lots of water, at least 8 cups per day.
  • Get plenty of quality sleep.
  • Exercise.  This will help you sweat out toxins and naturally energize you.
  • Saunas, skin brushing, and Epsom salt baths help draw toxins out through the skin and promote cleansing
  • Acupressure.  If you have a headache, pinch the area between your thumb and forefinger, and hold firmly for a minute or two.  Do on both hands.  Also, rub your temples firmly to help relieve pressure.

Nourishing foods to help detox during caffeine withdrawals

  •  Eat whole, nutritient dense foods – fruits, vegetables, legumes, unrefined grain products, healthy proteins and fats, and high fiber foods.  Fiber will help to move toxins from your body and will stabilize digestion, which can be thrown off when in caffeine withdrawal.  Fruits and vegetables will help to reduce coffee’s acidifying effect on the body, and will also help to flush toxins from your system. Avoid processed foods, sugars, and salt, as these will make your body retain fluid.
  • Add extra fiber supplements, like flax, chia, or psyllium seed, to help detoxify the liver, kidneys, and bowels. 
  • Raw apple cider vinegar tonic: mix 2-3 tsp raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar (Bragg’s or Eden Organic are good ones) with 1 c room temperature or warm water and 1-2 tsp of honey.  Drink first thing in the morning, or between meals.  Apple cider vinegar helps to cleanse the body of toxins, kills harmful bacteria in the digestive tract, helps restore a proper pH balance, and supports overall immune system function.
  • Maca: a Peruvian root which is processed into a  malt-like flavored powder. It is a natural source of amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins, and carbohydrates, and helps your body produce energy naturally, without any adrenal-draining side effects. It is an adaptogen which helps balance hormones, great for fertility for both men and women.  Add to smoothies, desserts, or stir into grain porridges, granola, or yogurt.
  • Spirulina: a powerful microalgae, spirulina is detoxifying and a good source of natural energy.It provides many important nutrients and trace minerals to support your system, and is surprisingly protein rich.  Add to green smoothies or take in pill or tablet form.

Supplements for Kicking Caffeine (and healthy adrenals)

Some supplements may have side effects with your current medication.  While this information is what I recommend to the majority of my clients it should not take the place of professional medical advice if you are on medication or are in poor health.

  • Vitamin C and Vitamin B Complex 
  • Siberian Ginseng and Panax Ginseng (a.k.a. Asian or Korean Ginseng) traditionally combined with licorice are considered adrenal tonics. Ginseng helps to support the immune system and restore a proper balance to the body, especially in times of stress or low immunity.  It is especially helpful to strengthen the kidneys, which are often weakened from regular caffeine use.  Take Ginseng in capsule or tea form; you can find ginseng-lemon-honey tea mix at the co-op in the herbal supplement section.  Ginseng is a powerful supplement; use for 2-4 weeks, then take a break for 2-4 weeks before starting again, if desired.
  • Licorice. Licorice tea can be found in the tea section. Licorice can increase blood pressure if overused; regularly drinking licorice tea for more than two weeks straight, especially if you have blood pressure imbalances, may cause risks. 
  • Gingko Biloba and Guarana are all natural stimulants and can be taken to boost energy when in caffeine withdrawal. Gingko Biloba and Gotu Kola and can help to restore mental clarity when you are in a caffeine withdrawal “brain fog”.  Those especially intolerant of caffeine or with arrhythmia or tachycardia issues  may want to stay away from Guarana as it can exacerbate symptoms.
  • L-Glutamine: a powerful amino acid that helps restore cellular growth and is especially helpful for healing the lining of the digestive tract. If you’ve been burning up your stomach lining and disturbing your intestines with coffee, this can help sooth and heal your gut.  Take in pill form, or for best absorption, dissolve pure powder under your tongue for 30 seconds then swallow with water.